Back in 2007 when I started this Top 100 madness I began telling my family and friends about my quest in hopes of making some contacts that would be able to help me along the way. When I told my Dad he suggested that I get in touch with his friend Jim who lived in San Francisco, was a very avid golfer and had played a number of Top 100 courses over the years. Jim and I started communicating via email and stayed in touch fairly regularly over the next 3 years. Early in 2010 when I began laying out my “wishlist” schedule for the year, a trip to Northern California in May seemed like it might fit my plans quite nicely so I contacted Jim to see if he would be able to help. Fortunately, he said to leave it all to him and that’s just what I did.
The first game of the Northern California trip was at Mayacama Club. Mayacama is located in Santa Rosa, CA which is about 60 miles north of San Francisco. I had only been to San Francisco once before and it was more than 10 years ago so for all intents and purposes I was in uncharted territory. Jim advised that I allow for two hours to get to Santa Rosa from San Francisco so I left in plenty of time to arrive for our 11:30 lunch. From the airport vicinity I drove directly into town, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin County. For those of you who know me well you certainly know that before I spent all my free time traveling the country playing golf I used to travel the country seeing one of the bands that pioneered the “San Francisco Sound”, The Grateful Dead. I couldn’t help but enjoy a little nostalgia as I drove by signs for San Rafael, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Novato, San Anselmo and a number of other small towns outside San Francisco that I’d always heard associated with various members of the band over the years, but had never really put into geographical context. That was a fun little surprise.
Eventually, I found my way to the club entrance and was directed by the security guard at the gate to the clubhouse. Driving though the property it became glaringly evident that this was an incredible piece of property. I couldn’t wait to see the golf course.
Today Jim and I would be playing with his friends Wendy and Frank. I found them in the grill room and we had a great lunch while they filled me in a little bit about the club. The land had originally belonged to Charles M. Schulz, creator of “Peanuts”, until he sold it to a developer to be used as a golf club. Schulz was an avid golfer and the only stipulation of the sale was that he would be able to be the first member at the club. Unfortunately he did not live to see the completion of a club which opened in 2001 just a year after his passing.
One interesting thing about Mayacama is that they have a unique membership category. For those of you familiar with Northern California you may have already realized that Santa Rosa is dead in the heart of wine country. Mayacama has embraced this and created a special membership category for area vintners. Each vintner member is required to provide a portion of their wine to the club which is then made available to the membership at member pricing. Each member has a wine locker in the wine cellar and I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that between the clubs cellar and the wines in the members’ lockers that the collection at this club is as top notch as they come.
Once we finished lunch we headed to the range to warm up in the rain and then went directly to the first tee hopeful that the foul weather was just passing through. The course was not busy and we basically had then entire place to ourselves. Interestingly, the course which was designed by Jack Nicklaus is relatively short. The par is 72 and tips only play at 6785 yards but have an amazingly high rating and slope of 74.2 and 153. We opted for fun and chose the slightly shorter tees of 6302 which had a rating and slope of 71.7 and 138.
The course is set in the hills of Santa Rosa which really gives a great vibe to the place. The photo below was taken on the 2nd hole tee. This is a par 5 that we played from 507 yards and the number 1 handicap hole. The hole bends around to the right so a drive that gets too far right can be blocked out of a view to the green for the second shot.
Below is a photo of the green. It sits out there on a ledge and with a hole location at the back of the green it can be a tricky shot.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an interesting little side story here. As we were walking the second hole Wendy got to telling me about a non-golf club that has an encampment right around the corner from Mayacama. She mentioned that Frank goes as a guest with a buddy of his each year. As she told me more about this club she happens to mention that Frank’s friend who he goes with is Mickey Hart, the drummer of The Grateful Dead. What are the chances of that!! When I set out on this Top 100 quest I would have never guessed that my golf and music worlds would ever be that closely related! What a small world. I got a huge kick out of telling this story to all my friends from my Grateful Dead days. Just too funny.
Back to the course . . . I loved the 3rd hole which is a par 3 that we played from 157 yards. As you can see in the photo below its a treacherous little shot. A high draw that seems to be in order for this shot.
Here is a little closer look at this green.
Below is a photo of the 5th hole which is the other par 3 on the first nine holes. We played this one at 167 yards and despite the downhill terrain it did not play much shorter than that distance. Note how blue the sky is. We went from blue sky to dark clouds all day long. Fortunately we never had rain after the 4th hole.
The 6th hole is a par 4 that we played from 391 yards. It was a basic drive down the middle and then a carry over the barranca to reach the green. For those of you who do not know the word barranca, that is a much more sophisticated term for what we here on the east coast call a ditch. I’d never heard that before and I loved it! Below is a photo of the 6th green.
The 7th hole is a short par 4 that we played for 307 yards. I hit a little 200 yard shot down the middle and then had the approach pictured in the photo below left to the green. Note that this is a much better photo of a barranca. This was a visually intimidating approach shot even though it was very short. You couldn’t see the green except for the flag and the barranca had to be carried at a strange angle.
The photo below is of the 11th hole which is a par 3 that we played from 184 yards. One interesting thing about this course is that although the par is 72 it is split up as 37/35. The first nine holes have three par 5s and the second nine holes have three par 3s, so the course has five par 5s, five par 3s and eight par 4s which is a little unusual. Note the clubhouse sitting off to the right in the photo below.
The photo below is of the 13th green. This hole is a par 4 that we played from 369 yards. I managed to find that bunker on the front right which was not a pleasant place to be.
The 14th hole is a cute little short par 3 that we played from 140 yards. It played a little uphill but it really didn’t come into play when clubbing the yardage.
Here is a closer look at the 14th hole.
I loved the 15th hole because it set up for my game well. It is a par 5 that we played from 517 yards. The tee box was extremely elevated as you can see in the photo below. The ideal line is to hit it over the bunkers on the left hand side and then the ball will feed down to the middle of the fairway.
For once I executed well and hit the perfect drive which left only a 180 yards into the green on this par 5. The photo below was taken from where I hit my approach. I knocked my second shot on the green to about 15 feet and promptly left my eagle putt a foot short. Oh well.
The 17th hole was the final par 3 of the day. We played this one from 170 yards and there are some deep bunkers protecting this one. One of the players in our group got in the front bunker and took about 6 swings at it before using the trusty “hand wedge” to get it on the green. The photo below is the 17th green.
Even though I don’t have photos of the 18th hole I should note that it is a par 5 that we played from 525 yards. I knocked a great drive out the middle and had about 200+ over a lake to get onto the green in two. Again, I executed well and had another eagle putt of about 15 feet. I LEFT IT SHORT AGAIN!!!!! Oh well. Some days it’s just so hard to find the hole.
Mayacama was a fun course. It was a little quirky because of the 37/35 layout with the extra par 5 and extra par 3, but that is part of it charm. The course has a reputation of being tough though it didn’t seem that tough while we were playing it. That being said when we added up the scores we left a lot of strokes out there. Jim who plays off a 3 handicap didn’t even break 80. The par 3s ate me up. I was 5 over on the five par 3s! That does not help the old scorecard. None the less we had a great time playing the course and ended the evening with a fantastic dinner with our hosts. Considering that this was my first trip to wine country, it will be pretty hard to beat next time I visit.